Keyword Density Explained and 5 Actionable Steps to Optimize Your Content
What is Keyword Density? Why is it the topic of so much discussion and debate? If you have been involved in search engine marketing for your small business, you would have definitely run across this terminology during the course of your online efforts. So, is keyword density important or not? And how do you check keyword density anyway? Follow us, dear reader, and all will become clear.
If you are already familiar with WHAT it is and WHY, and just want to know HOW, please jump to the bottom. You’ll find five actionable steps to optimize your web page.
Table of Contents:
What is Keyword Density?
You probably know what keywords are already. A keyword or key phrase (3-5 words long) that someone types into a search engine (usually Google). This is done by people who are looking for something; an answer, a fact, a business, a product, or a service. For example, if I wanted to find a new dry cleaner, I might open up Google and type “best dry cleaner near me.” That’s the keyword phrase (5 words long). What Google shows me after I hit Enter are the search engine results on the search engine results page (SERP).
Does It Matter?
Do you want to be on the first page of search results (SERPs)? Do you want to bring in organic traffic, for which you don’t have to pay money every time someone clicks? Of course you do! And of course it matters.
Think about it—whenever you search for something in Google, you only see what is on the first, maybe second page. If you’re really serious and get to the third page, you have gone far beyond what most people see. But we knew you weren’t like most people, didn’t we?
Third-party research has shown that the top position in Google gets 33% of the traffic. That’s the first organic listing on the first page. The second gets 18%, and the rate decreases steeply from there. Top of the second page (usually webpage #11 in the search engine rankings) receives 1% or less. Consider this: When you search for something, you only see what ranks—even if you did get to the third page or even tenth page. You never see the hundreds or thousands of pages that have been filtered out by Google’s algorithm.
And keyword density used to be an input in the algorithm. That was back when Google decided that word frequency was an indicator of relevancy. Once webmasters found that out, people started gaming the system by loading their pages full of keywords. It’s called keyword stuffing—like at Thanksgiving. Have you ever seen an old-school website from the turn of the century? Not always pretty. There’s a nice example of keyword stuffing here. Lucky for us, keyword density has been downgraded as a determinant of search engine ranking since Google Panda in 2011. But it didn’t look that great to us humans way before that.
So is keyword density still important, if it’s no longer a major indicator of site quality? Depends on who you ask. As mentioned in our article on 5 SEO Myths (it was myth #5), good content that is well-written and relevant will repeat the phrase several times.
It is necessary for helping search engines to better understand your content. It is also necessary for explaining to people what you are talking about. A person conducting a search is going to have certain questions they want answered. If you are optimizing content for those words, you’d better have some relevant and useful content for this searcher. Otherwise, you are wasting their time, they will leave your page right after visiting, and that will be detrimental to your site ranking.
Note that density in the text is not enough. There are many other places to put your keywords. More on this later!
How to Calculate It?
If you like math, there’s an easy formula that most people use to calculate word density. For one page (or post, we’ll use this synonymously), divide the number of times the keyword or phrase occurs by the number of total words. Times 100, it’s a percentage.
Please Note: There is no ideal percentage, however, just enough is better than too much.
If you are using Yoast in your website, there is an automatic counter of your Focus Keyword. Note that Yoast is very literal—any variation will not be counted toward the frequency. Google and Bing will take variations (such as plurals) into consideration, and they are likely to happen naturally while you write.
How to Optimize Your Content the Right Way
So now you understand WHAT and WHY, are you ready for the action steps? Here we go!
1. Choose Your Keywords
When you are deciding what words and phrases to use, choose ones that are:
- Popular: Searched for by a larger volume of people, ideally your target audience.
- Ownable: Meaning less competitive terms, particularly if you don’t have a lot to spend on paid search. Less competition means more likelihood that you’ll get on the first page.
- Relevant: Important to your business. You should have something meaningful to offer the people who are searching that term. Otherwise, you’ll just bring in traffic that leaves right away, increasing your bounce rate. And that can hurt your search engine ranking.
2. Do Your Research
You might guess what your strongest keywords are, but it’s worth it to do your research. There are nuances in consumer language that make a world of difference. Businesses often have lingo that they know well and use frequently, but which might not be the most consumer-friendly language.
Hardly ever would you use just one word for optimization. When you use two to five word phrases, you are less likely to have competition and more likely to show up at the top of results for someone searching that phrase. This lets you experience the long tail of search phrases.
3. Don’t Cannibalize
Select a unique phrase for each page and post in your site. My favorite analogy to use here is the symphony. Each instrument has its own melody that it contributes to the creation of beautiful music. If all the instruments were playing the same note at the same time, they would be competing with one another and if would be terrifically boring. Perhaps even aggravating.
4. Optimize Your Tags
- Make sure your keywords are in the Meta Title of your page. Yoast can help you with this, as well as automatically let you know if the length is spot-on. We suggest around 55 characters, although the max that will show on a SERP can be a bit more.
- Include the keywords in the Meta Description, once and early on. Aim for around 160 characters in your meta description. Remember, this is a mini-advertisement. Based on reading this page description, someone is going to decide whether to click on the link and visit your site or not.
5. Optimize Your Content
- Of course, the focus keywords will be in your body of text. What truly matters is to have clear, actionable copy. It needs to flow naturally and read well. Include words and terms that are related to your keywords, as search algorithms have become more sensitive to synonyms and natural language.
- Within the content, use H1 titles that have your key phrase in them.
- Include images in your content that use the keywords as alt text.
- Just like on Thanksgiving Day, Don’t Overdo It. If your content is crammed full of the phrase with a density above 5 or 10%, you may even be penalized in your page ranking. It looks spammy. Just don’t do it.
Check out our SEO Content Checklist for more ways to optimize your content and tons of resources to help you.
There you have it: Five easy steps for optimizing your content. To check your work, go grab your free, no-string, Website Audit. Simply enter your site URL and you’ll be instantly taken to a report showing what you’re doing well and where you can improve.